NOTES: Celebrating Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken
Spring is gala season in New York. For the theatre community, that means one-night only concerts featuring the top talent in the business. I was recently fortunate to attend the Dramatist Guild Foundation’s first annual “toast” concert in honor of composer Stephen Schwartz’s 70th birthday, and the New York Pops’ 35th annual gala honoring composer Alan Menken.
Both evenings featured a feast of Broadway’s hottest stars singings the best and most beloved songs from the Schwartz and Menken canons, which cross over with “Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”—both featuring music by Menken and lyrics by Schwartz. Personnel-wise, Schwartz and Menken alums Corey Cott and Patina Miller performed at both concerts, as did Mr. Menken who played and sang medleys of his songs with Schwartz and other collaborators.
In fêteing two of musical theatre’s greatest composers, each concert took a different, equally-wonderful approach. DGF invited a crop of the youngest and most exciting new voices—including Ben Platt, Darren Criss, Alex Newell, Corey Cott, and Lindsay Mendez—to offer their interpretations of Schwartz’s songs across from the decades, spanning “Godspell” (1970) to “Wicked” (2003). In a feat of master scheduling, the Pops was able to secure appearances from many of Menken’s original interpreters, including Jodi Benson (“The Little Mermaid”), Judy Kuhn (“Pocahontas”), Roger Bart (“Hercules”) along with four of the fives Muses (LaChanze, who is Tony-nominated for “Summer” was unable to attend), and as a super surprise guest, Broadway legend Angela Lansbury (“Beauty and the Beast”).
Every performance at both concerts was a highlight, but if I had to pick, top DGF performances included Ben Platt signing “All Good Gifts” and Alex Newell singing “Meadowlark”, while at the Pops, Harvey Fierstein camped it up singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” (fingers crossed Disney casts him for the planned live action remake) and Michael Arden simply killed “Out There”. Seeing and hearing sing Angela Lansbury on stage was the most special of all, though, prompting the swiftest and most vociferous standing ovation I’ve ever experienced at Carnegie Hall, not to mention tears.